Easy Rolling Kayaks

-- Last Updated: Mar-16-10 1:27 PM EST --

How about stirring a discussion on what makes a kayak easy to roll? In my limited practical observation, there are many factors, but one of the more important seems to be the relative position of the center of gravity of the paddler's body during the righting stages of a roll combined with the righting moment a kayak can generate.

"Dooh!", you say, the lower you are and the more help you get from the kayak, the easier you roll. Sure, but how does this translate to kayak features?

The play/river WW kayak I have allows me to "cheat". The boat 26-27" wide with flat bottom and square sides so it is very stable (upside or down). It was causing me trouble rolling at first as it was so stable when upside down and I could not time my roll well. However, after some practice I think it is has become easier to toll than my other kayaks! When doing certain rolls, the stern and/or the side submerge when on edge a lot more than my sea kayaks do. I probably also sit a lower overall in that short boat. In effect my center of gravity during the last phase of the roll is considerably lower compard to my higher volume sea kayak. Also, once past a certain point in righting-up, the stability of the kayak kicks-in and felps considerably in bringing me up. That allows me to do an almost effortless roll if done right, e.g. smoothly, no splashing and even using just a half paddle held with two loose fingers.

I can also do an almost effortless roll in my short sea kayak (especially with a GP to slow things down and give some more lift). That's because the kayak not only allows me to get pretty flat laying back on my rear deck but it also sits relatively low in the water when on its side or half-up (not a low volume boat but not terribly big for me either). Still, that kayak is harder for me to roll compared to the WW kayak in bumpy conditions since it tries to keep both ends above water much more than the WW does. While I find that kayak easy to roll in flat water, sea waves, or surf, I have more trouble rolling it quickly in WW rapids where my WW boat is easier.

My third kayak also allows me to lay fairly low on the rear deck, but the kayak is higher volume and sits higher on the water overall. My center of gravity is higher at all points (paddling or rolling). So, even though I can still lay almost flat on the deck, my center of gravity is high and that makes the roll require more effort than in either of the other two kayaks above. This kayak is also quite narrow and round, so it does not have much of a righting moment like the other two kayaks have once past a certain point - it does not impede my initial righting with excessive stability but also does not "help" with righting me up like the other two do.

C2C or forward finishing rolls are also harder for me in the higher volume kayak, I think due to the same factors above.

So, in effect, it seems that kayaks with ...
- lots of rocker (place the paddler low when up), and/or
- low volume (place the paddler low when sideways), and/or
- that sink down during a roll (place the paddler low when sideways), and
- are not too "tippy" (have strong righting moment)
... manage to place the paddler low in the water during the righting stages of a roll and create a bigger righting moment. They are thus easier to roll.

The shape of the hull (e.g. wide or narrow or flat or round) seems to be secondary about how easy a kayak is to roll compared to the above considerations.

A kayak that has good stability (but not excessive as to hinder initial righting) may be easier to roll than a really tippy narrow boat since the more stable kayak "assists" the paddler in righting him once past the edge where stability begins to increase.

I'm pretty tall at 6'4" and therefore find rolling a little harder than someone a foot shorter -;)


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Two words
Spring Roll

I haven’t compared a lot of boats, but it seems narrow and low volume (especially rear deck) help. I’m not sure I’d agree that a tippy boat is harder to roll though maybe harder to keep up once you come up (ooops, went too far and over I go again). The tippier of my two yaks is easier though it also is narrower and lower volume.

I wonder if the reason you found a sea kayak harder to roll in rapids is that it was more likely to broach in which cases rolling on the wrong side (sweeping away from the wave) would be harder.

One thing… Designers will seldom
market a ww kayak that is “hard” to roll. My '82 Noah Magma has a flattish bottom but poor initial stability. It is at its most stable when upside down. I’m sure Vladimir Vanha was not thinking mass market and rollability when he marketed it. But it was my first kayak, I learned to roll in it, and I could roll it in battle conditions. In the other kayaks I have owned, failure to roll was entirely due to my technique breaking down, not to anything about the boat.

No clear answer
Lot’s of things determine how easy a kayak can be rolled. Hull shape and volume can really make a difference.I think beam has the least effect unless you’re talking really wide lke 24" plus. Both my kayaks are 21" wide, fairly stable and roll quite easily. One has hard chines and is slightly higher behind the cockpit so takes just a wee bit more muscle. I can’t comment on short vs long but again, it’s probably more about volume, hull shape and where it’s placed than length. The paddlers size and skill level obviously plays a big part. Some of us including myself have a bit more upper body mass to deal with.


Easy to roll

– Last Updated: Mar-16-10 3:50 PM EST –

One of the easiest to roll kayaks is the Tahe Marine Greenland

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Did You Mention Rear Deck Height?
I once borrowed a boat with a very high rear deck. No layback possible. Yuck.

It is not the boat
Different boats require different techniques, but once you know what that is the boat becomes easy to roll. For example, WW boats with high flat sides typically require that you delay maximum energy output until later in the roll (rather than the immediate burst that most people employ). Jackson WW kayaks roll very easily with a layback hip snap (the roll EJ teaches) but do not respond as well to a traditional C2C, especially a forward finishing one. The Dragorossi Fish is a bear to roll with a traditional C2C but responds well to forward finishing. Learning your boat is probably more important than making a list of characteristics that make a boat “hard to roll”.

It seems your hitting some important
points. Some rolls like the c-c are a hit or miss type roll that requires good timing and aggressive technique. I feel that a roll that can be performed with minimal strength is the most dependable. Kayaks that can be balanced braced suit this type of roll best. Hull design, seat height, coaming shape and size are very important. A kayak that balance braces will have very good secondary stability which will help your bracing and keep you upright. Most manufacturers don’t seem to care about these features. Every kayak can be rolled with different technique but why not make a kayak roll very easily. The only manufactured kayak that I have paddled that meets these specs is the Outer Island by Jay Babino. Being a competent roller allowed Jay to make the proper design features.

"Most manufacturers don’t seem to care about these features."

and by “most”, whom are you referring?


Agree…body, boat, blade…that is the order of importance for a roll…

the boat notation has nothing to do with chines etc. it has to do with boat position and control

it’s really all about the person and very little about the other two if you are just talking about doing a roll

When You start talking about doing many differant rolls of assorted contortions…then the boat starts to matter…and if you start talking about getting lucky in order to roll, then the blade starts to matter.

to really understand rolling…it’s about the person, not the kayak.

Best Wishes



– Last Updated: Mar-16-10 7:25 PM EST –

c2c does tend to be an all or none roll....but does not need to be done with gusto once the person actually becomes a competent roller...it can be accomplished with finesse.

And all kayaks are roll able, it's part of the design of any kayak...but not all paddler’s are competent rollers...sad, but way too true.

Buy.... whatever kayak you like to paddle, and learn it's idiosyncrasies and it will roll easy. torsional rotation is also a part of the caricaturistics of the hull. They don't all roll at the same speed, some need to take their time coming around and will refuse to be hurried and don't really care that you own them...and demand it to be lightning fast

Best Wishes

I don’t mean to offend anyone
plus it would be ignorant of myself not to take into consideration the many differences in paddlers. I have heard many good things about the Tempest kayak but have never had the opportunity to paddle one so my previous comments are not intended toward that kayak.

Having a fit…
To me fit is critical - by that I mean contact at the foot braces, thigh braces, and back. If I am too loose in a boat I flop around in it and the boat does not move when I move. Too tight, and I lose my range of motion. There aren’t many boats I can’t roll if I have good contact and I can bend forward and sideways. The most surprising roll I ever did was in a perception prism sot with thigh straps. Another surprise was rolling a sea kayak that did not have thigh braces. I guess it was round enough it just rolled like a log, so indeed, boat shape is also a factor.

easier ones for me -
My experience is that boats with boxier profiles seem to finish easier. The tempest 165 and avocet, for example, are slightly more forgiving than a pintail, even though the dimensions and volume are quite similar for all. The pintail has a more rounded profile between the side and bottom, and doesn’t have a flat bottom like the other two.

That said, it’s a very small difference. All three are great rollers. What makes them good? I’ll have to leave that to the designers.

Hull Shape
I dunno about your idea about hull shape. In roll classes some years back everyone scrambled for the Pirhouettes. They were hot dog shaped hulls. No one wanted the pancake shapes.

Mixing up whitewater and sea kayaks
is going to draw out comments from paddlers of both disciplines. Hopefully, you will also get paddlers who regularly do both, regardless of whether a specific sea kayak should be paddled in whitewater. Since no one has said it, in moving water getting set with the current usually makes a roll easier than fighting it out on your preferred side, on whichever way you capsized.


Little difference
I use both a P&H Capella 160 and a Prijon Capri Tour for rolling. They’re both completely different boats, but one is easy to roll as the other. The Capri has a much higher rear deck, but still easy to roll. The more difficult boats to roll are the ones that don’t fit as well. The bigger difference for me is the type of roll. I started with the C2C, thinking the 3-count movement would be easy. I switched to a standard sweep roll and it’s much easier and almost effortless. That’s my take on it anyway.


s’okay dong
I took your post to mean that most kayaks are not well designed to roll because the vast majority of kayaks made and sold are recreational boats.They are the moneymakers for many kayak makers. Seakayaks as a general genre are but a small fractional niche of the market.

Given their intended market & users, traits desireable to rolling are not a factor and thus not emphasized. That is, anyway, how I took it.

What makes a boat a good roller? The perfect intersection of design, fit, and the paddler’s ability to make the most of them. Sell that in a bottle then you got somethin’